A Tale of Two Cities

After staying up until two in the morning on Wednesday night to go to the Technical Institute’s Sommerfest (and playing beer pong with some poor guys who had to pay $20 to ship a set of red solo cups overseas), I woke up at seven last Thursday to catch the bus to Berlin.  I was traveling to attend a conference on Violence and Inequality in Latin America, a topic that the doctoral students in my office of the Institute for Geography are familiar with through their research.  It was good to be immersed in the Spanish language once again.  It’s incredible actually, I’ve met more people here in a couple of weeks who have been to Peru than I did in all of my time back in the States!  Germans apparently love to go to Latin America, much as American students like to head to Europe.

Conversations often turn to differences and similarities between the U.S. and Europe.  My roommates and I have talked about university education (what I pay for tuition in the states could probably pay for all living expenses were I to study in fee-free Germany instead), and the judicial system (no settlements for hot McDonalds coffee over here!).  A person is actually not allowed to be awarded more than their salary for a settlement, or so I’ve been told.  It was also interesting to hear that German states often encourage people to drive cars instead of using public transportation.  I was at first very surprised at this, thinking of Germany as the hub of environmental sustainability, but Germany’s economy is also driven by the manufacturing (i.e. automotive) sectors.  It would therefore make sense for the states to want citizens to buy the goods that keep their economy running.  I still cheer a bit inside whenever I see a Ford though. (:  None of my beloved Challengers are over here though!

Berlin was an incredible city.  A couple of days were certainly not enough to explore it in detail.  I of course saw the Brandenburger Tor, wandered about the Museumsinsel, took a day trip to Potsdam, and became quite lost while trying to navigate the train and subway system.  Getting on the wrong train on the way out of Nuremberg was no problem – I just got off on the next stop and turned around.  In Berlin, every street has another bus or train to take you to another three streets, so while I don’t like to rely on my phone, Google Maps quickly became my best friend.

The city has a curious vibe.  When I visited a friend living in East Berlin close to the division, she put it like this: “It looks like a place where you’d have to be careful, but I feel totally comfortable here.”  The buildings certainly look old and covered in graffiti, but the people are upbeat and the neighborhoods are full of life.  Each neighborhood seems to pride itself on creating a certain identity.  I think anyone could walk into Berlin and find a place where they belong.  It was fascinating to hear a tour guide talk about so many places built only  twenty years ago, as several cultural and historical structures were destroyed during the Second World War.

Berlin was cool not just for its architecture and history, but also for the food.  My gosh, the food!  Everywhere I looked, there was something I wanted to eat.  My favorite spot was at Markthalle Neun, where dozens of food vendors representing many different nationalities cooked up delicious dishes.  I would have eaten there every night if I’d had the time.

I’m way too tired to keep writing, so I hope this has given you all a taste of Berlin!

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